Religion may be a declining force in Japan, as of its half population is atheist. But surprisingly, Japan has at least 20 Hindu Gods faithfully been worshipped even today. Even some of the deities forgotten in India are still canonized in Japan. There are hundreds of shrines to Goddess Saraswati alone in that country, along with myriad representations of Lakshmi, Indra, Brahma, Kubera Ganesha, Garuda and others. The Shibamata and Katsushika wards of Tokyo have Indra temples. Many will also appear even on either side of a Buddha image.
There is also a place known as the Shoten-cho, in the Japanese capital, Tokyo famous for its several temples and shrines. The lesser known fact is that Shoten, the Noble God, stands for the Hindu deity Ganapati. During the early 1800s, according to few scholars’, over 100 Ganapati temples were found here.
On this topic, an exclusive exhibition at Indian Museum is also set to throw light on the country's long lost history that survives in a foreign land. The Japan Foundation and film-maker and art-historian Benoy K Behl have collaborated to hold an exhibition of rare photographs that will be inaugurated on 11th January and will continue until January 21. "The exhibition will be a unique treat for the eyes and the mind," said Indian Museum education officer Sayan Bhattacharya.
The research that escorts Behl's photographs acknowledges astonishing facts about the concerns of Indian heritage in Japan. For instance, the 6th century Siddham script is preserved in Japan, though it has abandoned from India. In Japan's Koyasan, there is a school where Sanskrit is taught in Siddham. 'Beejaksharas' (or etymology of alphabets) of Sanskrit in this script are regarded as holy and given great significance. Each deity has a 'Beejakshara' and these are cherished by the people, even though most of them cannot read it. Some Japanese tombs are also adorned with the Sanskrit alphabet. A number of words in Japanese also have their roots in Sanskrit and in supermarkets a brand of milk products are called ‘Sujata’.
“The deep-rooted spirit of the Buddha's teachings energizes the Japanese people. Buddhist temples are numerous and vast numbers of people visit these every day. Besides the Buddha, many ancient Indian deities and practices (prevail) in their temples. An Indian feels quite at home in Japan," says Behl.
According to the former Japanese Ambassador to India, Yasukuni Enoki, “A majority of Japanese gods are actually Indian gods,” and were imported wholesale from the 6th century onwards. “These Indian deities were introduced from China into Japan as Buddhist deities with Chinese names,” writes Sengaku Mayeda of Japan’s Eastern Institute.